foundational education vs pinnacle education

In education there’s a debate over whether a student should start with foundational knowledge and build from there or whether they should start at a place (i.e., framework) that’s further along so that they can reach even higher at an earlier age than those who have to, for example, spend time memorizing addition and subtraction problems when they could have just relied on a calculator. (Apparently this is something they do in Sweden?)

Recently we in GIS land have brought up the question of whether a 12 week course that promises to teach you to be a data scientist is snake oil or not. Given: an advanced statistics degree is a huge accomplishment and we need some people who know those fundamentals.

The question is, though, what if we taught the tools (but not the theory, thus saving people time) to people who are experts in other disciplines? I think there’s definitely a place for modularized education like this. And providing this 12 week option–if the quality of the teaching is good–could enable more and better advances.

It’s kind of like saying: “we shouldn’t enable people without expertise in cartography or GIS analysis to make maps by providing shortened educational opportunities.” Well guess what? We didn’t provide shortened educational opportunities and still our entire profession has been up-ended over the past 10 years by people who have had virtually no expertise in GIS analysis or cartography.

The gut tells us that too much territoriality never leads to new thinking. If the 12 week course turns out to be a disappointment due to poor teaching that’s certainly something to complain about. But to complain about the spirit of the course? Perhaps that’s sour grapes.


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